The Rag Man (1925) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • Tim Kelly is an orphan who runs away after his orphanage burns down. Presumed to be killed in the fire, he is able to roam the streets of New York freely. He meets Max Ginsberg, an old Jewish junk dealer with rheumatism, and the two strike a partnership and a close friendship.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • New York, a world within a city, where anything might happen.

    On the night of June 18th, in the lower east side, St. John's Oprhanage caught fire. Little Timmy Kelly (Jackie Coogan) escapes from an upper floor by tying sheets together and climbing out. The sheets don't reach to the ground, but when they catch fire, they break and he falls the rest of the way and the sheet covers him. Some firemen see him flailing around under the burning sheet and direct the full force of their fire hose on him, knocking him out of the alley and onto the sidewalk.

    The Father arrives and asks a sister if all the children are safe. She says all but one.

    Timmy is running amidst all the confusion and approaches a policeman. The cop asks him where he's going in the kimona. Timmy turns and runs with the policeman in pursuit. Timmy gets away and runs into a barn. He spends the night in there with a black horse.

    Turns out the barn belongs to a local junk dealer named Max Ginsberg (Max Davidson).

    Max is sitting at a table eating breakfast, with his black horse looking on through a door that connects directly to the barn. Dynamite is the horse's name and he's a worn-out race horse that is now Ginsberg's sole companion.

    His business taught Max the gentle philosophy of seeing value in everything.

    The commercial center, where money talks and the world listens.

    The law office of Richard Scott (William Conklin).

    A partner asks Scott: "What do you want done with these Ginsberg papers -- his claim is about outlawed, isn't it?"

    Ginsberg is the rightful owner of these patents, but he has never been able to prove it.

    Scott says, "Those unscrupulous attorneys, Bernard and Winkler, disappeared, however, I'll make one more effort."

    Timmy spent the night in the back of Ginsberg's junk wagon. He wakes up to find himself in the wagon out on the street. He discovers some old adult sized clothes in the wagon and puts them on.

    The trousers are way too long, so he gets an idea after seeing a streetcar nearby. He removes the trousers and lays the legs across the tracks, quickly lying down so he can get a correct measurement. The trousers are cut off when the streetcar passes over them.

    Ginsberg walks out onto the sidewalk from a building accompanied by another man. Ginsberg tells the man that there's no market for empty bottles.

    They argue a bit and Ginsberg says, "I'll pay the nickel, but tonight I wouldn't sleep a wink," then he takes the items, including the bottles, from the man and pays him.

    Ginsberg puts the items in his wagon and gets ready to leave. Timmy sees him and hurries to get back onto the wagon. He finds some shoes that more or less fit and puts them on.

    Ginsberg lights a cigarette and takes the reins and gives them a shake. When the horse takes off, it causes Timmy to fall down and Ginsberg hears that. He stops the horse and climbs back to see what's going on.

    Ginsberg says to Tim, "What am I, a sight-seeing bus?"

    Ginsberg gets down from the wagon to get around to where Timmy is. Timmy is frightened and jumps down and runs off a ways. Ginsberg shouts at him, then returns to his wagon, accidentally dropping his money purse in the process.

    Timmy calls out to Ginsberg and runs over and retrieves the purse, then runs after the wagon, past the Burns Brothers Coal Company.

    Timmy catches the wagon and Ginsberg pulls over and stops. Timmy returns the purse to him. Ginsberg is impressed and says, "An honest boy in this neighborhood? A nickel you should have," and he hands one to Timmy.

    Timmy refuses the nickel, instead asking Ginsberg for a job. Ginsberg shakes his head no and begins to climb back onto his wagon. Timmy grabs his coat and yanks him back down, pleading with him.

    Ginsberg says, "A job you want. You talk like I pay income tax."

    Tim says, "Maybe I could watch your horse."

    Ginsberg seems taken in by the boy's sincerity, enthusiasm, and innocent look. They shake hands and Ginsberg asks his name.

    "Timothy Patrick Alyoisius Michael Kelly."

    "Oi, it sounds like the roll call for a St. Patrick's parade."

    "There's two more, but I can't think of 'em."

    The Wall Street District, where they dry clean without gasoline.

    As Ginsberg and Timmy ride down the street, a man riding in a car with his wife sees them. He knows Ginsberg, but apparently not in a good way. He pulls the shade down and tells his wife not to worry, that Ginsberg didn't see him.

    They ride on, past the Diamond Cafe. Dynamite, the horse, is wearing a hat that doesn't seem to serve any useful purpose other than to make him look silly.

    They see Mother Malloy (Lydia Yeamans Titus) sorting apples in front of a store. She's sold so many apples, three doctors went out of business.

    Ginsberg gives Timmy a coin to go get an apple. Mrs. Malloy takes the coin and gives Timmy an apple. Timmy asks her if she could make two small ones out of the big one, for the same price. She gives him two smaller apples in exchange.

    She sees Ginsberg and calls out, "Hello Max, is your rheumatism all over?"

    "All over, every bone in my body aches."

    She laughs and says, "Shure, and it's a good thing you're not a herring."

    She's asks Timmy what his name is.

    "What're ye doin' with Mr. Ginsberg?"

    "I'm his horse watcher."

    "Shure, you're a fine combination."

    A Jewish man approaches and asks Ginsberg, in Yiddish, "How's business, without lyin'?"

    Ginsberg responds, "Business is great, and I'm lyin'."

    Timmy asks how to say goodbye in Jewish. Ginsberg tells him and Timmy says it to the man. The man is surprised and impressed.

    Misery loves company, and besides, that night Timothy Kelly was looking for a place to sleep.

    Timothy helps Max move around the room and get comfortable. He says, "Something tells me that I'm going to be a great help to you, Mr. Ginsberg. Mr. Ginsberg, hot water is very good for rheumatism."

    Timmy fills a hot water bottle and uses a piece of cloth to tie it to Ginsberg's right shin, then puts a blanket over the top of that. "I'll take good care of you, Mr. Ginsberg."

    Timmy asks if he should light the ceiling lamp and then lights a stick and climbs up on the table so he can reach it. Ginsberg suddenly cries out and jumps up, ripping the hot water bottle from his leg. It was too hot and burning him. That startles Timmy and he loses his balance and falls to the floor.

    Timmy feels terrible and Ginsberg doesn't seem to be in a forgiving mood, so Timmy grabs his hat and prepares to leave. He lingers, obviously hoping Ginsberg will invite him to stay, but he doesn't. At the door, Timmy sees a newspaper lying on the floor and picks it up. It's in Jewish.

    He takes it over to Ginsberg and says, "Here's your Chinese newspaper." Ginsberg tells him it's Jewish.

    Timmy asks Max if he's Jewish. Max says, "Do I look like an Eskimo?"

    Ginsberg looks at the paper and tells Timmy that there's a story in there saying that Timothy Kelly was burned up by the Orphanage fire.

    Timothy turns to leave and says goodbye to Ginsberg and Dynamite. He tells Ginsberg that Dynamite is a nice horse. Ginsberg tells Timmy that 15 years ago, by the Louisville, Kentucky races, Dynamite won the derby.

    Timmy looks up at the large derby hat he's wearing, then takes it off and says, "I wish he'd win one to fit me."

    Timothy opens the front door and it's pouring down rain. Ginsberg's not worried, because he's not going out. Timothy reluctantly turns away again and briefly closes the door as he steps out, but he comes right back in, asking Ginsberg if he might happen to have a raincoat.

    Ginsberg says he'd have plenty of raincoats if he hadn't been robbed.

    Timmy shuts the door and comes back in, wanting to know about the robbery.

    There's a flashback in time, where Ginsberg is laboring at a sewing machine and he tells a supervisor, Mr. Rosenblatt, that his new patent will save time and labor. He pulls out the plans for whatever it is and Rosenblatt agrees that Ginsberg's idea should work and he stands to make a fortune.

    Ginsberg's next step was to entrust his invention to a couple of lawyers, Bernard and Winkler, who tricked him into signing away the rights to his patent to them. He tells Timmy that he tried for years to make them pay, but now he doesn't even know where they are.

    Timmy falls asleep as he's listening and Ginsberg appears to be taking a strong liking to the lad as he looks up and taps at his heart.

    As time passed, these two lonely souls were drawn together by the bond of human love, and Max Ginsberg found himself a partner in his own business.

    Timmy paints a sign on the side of the wagon that reads: Ginsberg & Kelly and announces to Ginsberg that they are now partners, 50-50..

    Timmy calls Ginsberg "Uncle Max" and begs him to let him go out on his own and see what he can do. He tells Ginsberg that he's watched him buy things and has learned how to do it. He says, "I can talk with my hands n' everything.

    Timmy asks Ginsberg how much money they have. Ginsberg pulls out his purse and counts four dollars.

    Timmy hugs Uncle Max, kisses him on the cheek, and pronounces himself a businessman.

    Ginsberg: "What makes you think so?"

    Timmy holds up the four dollars and says, "Anybody that could take four dollars away from you must be a business man."

    Timmy then runs out to the stable and struggles to start hooking Dynamite up to his harness.

    When Alexander the Great started out to conquer the world, he had a great army. Timothy Kelly had four dollars.

    Ginsberg helps Timmy get the doors open so he and Dynamite can get the wagon out and on the way. Ginsberg says goodbye to his four dollars, but demands Timmy make sure to bring back the wagon and horse.

    Dynamite's feet had been on cobble stones so long that Fifth Avenue felt like a mattress.

    Timmy and Dynamite traveled along the street, amongst the cars, tour buses and other horses and carts.

    Timmy stops in front of a building and goes up and knocks on the door. He tells the maid who answers that he is Mr. Kelly of Ginsberg and Kelly, buying high class junk.

    The maid calls the woman of the house. She's the same lady who was in the car with the man who recognized Ginsberg and pulled the blind down.

    Timmy tells her that "We pay the highest prices of any firm in New York."

    She tells Timothy to wait and turns to go back in the apartment. Timothy calls out to Dynamite, points at the door and says, "Oats!" Dynamite nods his head.

    The woman returns with some items of clothing. Timothy tells her the hat is out of style and sets it aside. He checks out a jacket and tells her the lining is in bad condition and sets it aside. There is another jacket and Timothy sniffs it and wonders if the moths had a wonderful time with it. The last item is a pair of pants that Timothy looks at and says, "Not so good."

    Timothy then asks how much she wants for the lot. She leaves it to his judgment. Timmy ponders a moment then says, "They're worth at least fifteen cents."

    She agrees and he pays her fifteen cents. She then offers him the money back, but he refuses, saying "no thanks, business is business."

    Timmy sees who he thinks is a girl bouncing a ball and stops and says hello. Turns out it's a little boy named Reginald who takes exception to being mistaken for a girl.

    Timmy approaches Reginald and tells him he pays real money for rags and bottles. Reginald takes Timothy down into the cellar beneath his home and through a locked door into what appears to be something of a wine cellar. There are numerous bottles stacked on the shelves.

    Timothy goes into salesman mode and asks Reginald how much per bottle. Reginald says, "one cent." Timothy says he'll take twenty-five cents worth. Reginald cautions Timothy that the bottles are full. Timothy finds no problem with that, saying that they could simply open the bottles and empty them in the nearby sink.

    The deal is struck, and they go to work.

    After buying all the junk he could find, except the Battleship Washington, Timothy Kelly was down to his last dollar.

    As Timmy is loading his wagon with his latest haul, the Father from the orphanage walks past and stops to approach Timmy. He asks him if he's Timmy Kelly. Timmy nods. "I thought you were lost in the fire. What are you doing here?"

    Timmy points to the sign "Ginsberg & Kelly" on the wagon. The Father asks where this Mr. Ginsberg is.

    "Oh, he's sick, but I'm running the business. He's a very nice man and don't worry, Father, we're church-going people too. Every Saturday he takes me to the Synagogue." When the Father scowls at that, Timmy quickly adds, "But every Sunday I take him to mass."

    "That's fine, Tim, but I'm afraid I'll have to take you back to the new Home."

    "Please, Father, he needs me, and you wouldn't want to break up our business."

    "Not for the world, Timmy, but it's my duty."

    "But, Father, the Jewish newspaper said I was dead."

    The Father thinks about that a moment, smiles and says, "Well, Timmy, dead or alive, you'll get along all right. Good luck to you."

    They shake hands and the Father lifts Tim up into the wagon. With a tip of his cap to the Father, Timothy tells Dynamite to giddyap.

    After a successful day, Timothy Kelly, the "Rag Man" finally established himself in the heart of Max Ginsberg as a business man.

    Timothy returns to the Ginsberg place and starts unpacking his goods. Mrs. Malloy is there visiting with Ginsberg. She asks Max how their little Irish friend is getting along.

    "He couldn't be any smarter if he was born in Moscow."

    Timothy is going through one of the jackets he picked up and finds a letter dated August 7, 1910, written on stationary from the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, CO.

    It reads:

    "Dear Friend Bernard: Again I appeal to you to locate the inventor whose property we took and make a complete settlement with him. I am nearing my journey's end Jim, and it is my dying wish that you restore him to that which is rightfully his. This is my last earthly wish. Good bye, Jim. Signed, Henry Winkler."

    Timmy wads up the letter and tosses it on the floor.

    Timmy glances over at Dynamite and realizes he needs to feed the horse. He puts some grain into a bucket and prepares to set it in front of Dynamite, but realizes there's a hole in the bucket. He looks around for something to plug the hole with and grabs that crumpled up letter and uses that.

    Tim then gathers up the few scraps of paper trash that he'd collected and places them on the ground outside the home and lights them on fire.

    Ginsberg is telling Mrs. that his heart is full of love for Timmy.

    Tim comes back inside and sees how Mrs. Malloy is fawning over Max and says to her, "You like Uncle Max, don't you Mrs. Malloy?"

    "Sure, her reminds me of my third husband."

    "Well, why don't you two get married?"

    A horrified look passes over Mrs. Malloy's face and she tells Timmy to mind his own business. "I'll pick me own cave man" and she gets up in a huff and leaves the house.

    Timmy rushes after her, apologizing, but she slams the door and a sign that reads, "Remembrance," falls on top of his head.

    Tim starts straightening up things again and Ginsberg calls him over and asks him not to try and be a marriage maker for him. Timmy then explains that he was only reacting to how Mrs. Malloy was touching Ginsberg and making sweet talk.

    There's a knock at the door and Timothy answers it, acting like a doorman at a rich man's home. He asks for the name of the gentleman caller.

    "Richard L. Scott."

    "Mr. Scott to see you."

    "Send him in."

    Scott walks the few steps over to where Ginsberg is lying on his bed.

    Tim sets a chair next to the bed for Mr. Scott to use. Scott bows to him in thanks.

    Scott sits and shakes hands with Ginsberg. In response to Timothy's tapping on his shoulder, he turns and Tim motions to his cap. Scott removes his cap and hands it to Timothy. After giving the hat an appraising once over, Tim tosses it onto a stack of similar hats.

    "Who's the kid, Ginsberg?"

    "That's Kelly, my partner, an Irisher."

    "I think we're on Bernard's trail at last. He's living somewhere in New York under the name of Bishop. His partner, Winkler, seems to have dropped out of sight."

    Max motions Scott to lean forward and tells him "For me, I don't care. It's the boy I'm thinkin' of now. For twenty-five cents he bought enough bottles to make a bootlegger independent."

    Scott shakes Ginsberg's hand and gets up and walks over to where Timothy is working with those wine bottles. "It looks like business is pretty good."

    "Yes, I bought all of these bottles for twenty-five cents. They were full, but we emptied them."

    Scott takes one of the bottles and smells it, then roars with laughter, telling Ginsberg that's the best joke he ever heard. He congratulates Timmy and asks him where he got the bottles.

    "From a nice little boy at 19 Park Avenue."

    "What was his name?"

    Timothy tells him.

    "Ye Gods! My boy! My cellar!" Scott jumps up, grabs a hat and runs out the door. When his driver laughs at his obviously too small hat, he goes back inside and starts going through the pile of hats, but can't find the right one, so he just leaves without one.

    Tim rushes over to the pile of hats and pulls off the correct one, takes it to the door and tosses it out to Mr. Scott. Scott fumbles it and it falls onto the street and is promptly flattened by Scott's driver as he pulls away.

    Ginsberg explains to Timmy that Scott is his lawyer and came to tell him about those men who robbed and cheated him. When Max tells Tim that Scott told him Bernard is in New York and calls himself Bishop, and the other fellow, Winkler, had disappeared, Tim starts to think and then suddenly remembers that letter.

    As Ginsberg is philosophizing about how a clean conscience gathers no moss, Tim goes outside and fingers through the ashes of that paper fire he'd started earlier. He's convinced that he destroyed the evidence and is distraught about it.

    It dawns on Tim that he might still be able to help and he decides to go back to that house where he got the hat, jackets and trousers and talk to this Mr. Bernard/Bishop. He takes the municipal railway, walks to the home and knocks on the door. Mrs. Bernard (Ethel Wales) answers and welcomes him in. She becomes immediately concerned when Timmy asks to speak with Mr. Bishop and tells him there's no Mr. Bishop there.

    Timmy thinks a moment and says, "Maybe his name is Bernard now."

    Mrs. Bernard directs him to the large study where Mr. Bernard (Robert Edeson) is sitting.

    Timmy introduces himself: "I'm Kelly, of Ginsberg and Kelly, 62 McDougal Alley. I guess you know Uncle Max. I found a letter in your old coat. It was from your partner, Mr. Winkler, who was sick in Denver, and it told about all the money you owe Max Ginsberg."

    "Where is the letter?"

    "I burned it up before I knew."

    "In the eyes of the law, you have no evidence."

    "But just the same, the money belongs to Uncle Max. Please, you have everything, he has nothing, except me."

    Timothy approaches and leans inward. "You can't look me straight in the eye, Mr. Bishop."

    Mrs. is listening at the door and she's distraught.

    "But Uncle Max is poor. He's sick. He needs help."

    Bernard shakes his head no.

    Timmy turns to go, but then whips back around and says, "Some day, you'll be sorry, Mr. Bishop," and he turns and goes, casting one pleading last glance back at Bernard before he disappears.

    Back at Ginsberg's, Kelly is sad and he approaches the wagon and removes his name from the sign. Max sees him and says, "Kelly, if you don't like your name, change it to Levinsky."

    Kelly tells Ginsberg that he shouldn't have bragged that he was a businessman.

    Max says, "Anybody what can fill a junk wagon with four dollars these days is a businessman."

    "I'm too little to be a business man. I'm going back where I belong. I tried to help you, but I failed."

    "Kelly, I love every mistake you make."

    "Some day when I get big, I'll pay you back."

    Timothy prepares to go and Max pleads with him, "Please don't go, Kelly, ain't we fifty-fifty?"

    Timothy tells Ginsberg that he'll send the clothes he's wearing back to him from the Home.

    Ginsberg starts to cry.

    A car pulls up outside. It's Mr. Bernard. He steps forward as Tim opens the door. Tim and Ginsberg are shocked to see him.

    Bernard tells Timothy "I can look you straight in the eye now," then looks up and sees Ginsberg.

    Ginsberg says "Bernard, you name changer, you thief. All these years you are rich with my money, you low life."

    "I came here to make amends. It wasn't you that brought me. It was that boy."

    Ginsberg is livid and raises his arm to strike at Bernard, but he's so small that Bernard can easily prevent that. Timmy rushes forward to intervene, but Ginsberg pushes him away.

    Timmy is standing near the stall door and suddenly it dawns on him that he might not have destroyed that letter after all. He grabs the feed bucket and removes that piece of wadded up paper, unravels it and sees that it is in fact the letter. He nearly rushes forward with it until he hears Bernard say, "I came to give you two hundred thousand dollars."

    Timmy starts to tear up the letter, but thinks better of it and carefully folds it and puts it in his pocket.

    "Tomorrow I'll give you all the money that has been coming to you all these years."

    Timmy taps Bernard on the shoulder, then turns to Ginsberg and says, "Uncle Max, how about the interest?"

    Max smiles and points at Tim, saying "That's Kelly, my partner."

    Bernard acknowledges the interest due and payable and shakes Tim's hand and gets up to leave.

    As Tim is telling Max that now he'll have balloon tires put on the wagon, Bernard turns at the door and tells them he'll see them at ten in the morning, "if nothing happens to me."

    Tim rushes out the door and calls out, "James," then goes up to the driver and whispers, "Drive carefully, please."

    Back inside, Max is excited and says "$200,000, oi, I'm a millionaire."

    Tim gets a scared look on his face, then hurries outside to reposition his name on the side of the wagon, so as to re-establish the 50-50 partnership. Only this time, he places his name first, so it reads "Kelly & Ginsberg." Meanwhile Ginsberg is saying, "I got everything, the world is mine, four cheers. I'll buy a bath tub, I'll have Dynamite's tail bobbed, I'll buy a car load of Matzos, I'll buy a brand new second-hand Ford."

    "Just a minute, Mr. Ginsberg, don't get so reckless with our money," reminding him of their 50-50 arrangement.

    Max says "Oi, oi, such a business man."

    He reaches out and says "Kelly." Tim reaches out and says, "Ginsberg" and they hug, rear back and break the bed springs.

    Springtime, the Idle Rich

    At a country club, two women and a man are dining on the patio. One woman asks the man who those people are.

    The man turns to look through his monocle and says, "They're the largest antique dealers in the city."

    It's Max and Timmy, golfing. Max hits one from the tee which looks like he barely connected. Timmy then sets up when some man behind and to his right yells out "Fore!"

    Tim looks up, scowls and yells, "I wouldn't give but three ninety eight."

    Ginsberg: "Still a business man."


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